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Pakistan Observes Two Sad Anniversaries
Indian army soldierss fire on Palistinian positions on December 15, 1971 during the India-Pakistani War of 1971. (AFP/Getty Images)

Pakistan Observes Two Sad Anniversaries

Aparna Pande

December marks two anniversaries in Pakistan’s history, one through which more than half of Pakistan’s population seceded to form a separate country, and the other marking the most heinous attack on schoolchildren ever in that country. Both events had messages that unfortunately have not been understood by the military-intelligence establishment that runs foreign and security policy.

In 1971, East Pakistan, the province that most staunchly supported the demand for Pakistan in the 1946 elections, broke away to form an independent country of Bangladesh. Most Pakistanis do not know the truth about 1971 and the majority believe the narrative that hegemonic India broke up Pakistan. Few know that the underlying reason lay not simply in geographic distance but reluctance of the West Pakistani primarily Punjabi-Muhajir elite — civilian and military — to share power with the other ethnicities, Bengali, Sindhi or Baluch.

The December 2014 attack on the Army Public School (APS), Peshawar, was conducted by the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan, a group whose origins lie in the policy of Pakistan’s security establishment to use Jihad as a lever of foreign and security policy.

Pakistan first deployed jihadi or non-state actors in 1947 in Kashmir against India. However, 1971 saw the start of a close nexus between Islamist organizations like the Jamaat e Islami and the Pakistani military with the Jamaat providing militias named Al Shams and Al Badr to terrorize and kill any Bengalis who did not side with West Pakistan.

Pakistani strategists viewed these non-state actors as useful and by the early 1970s the Islamist — jihadi-military nexus was first used with respect to Afghanistan, initially solely supported by Pakistan, and after Soviet invasion with assistance from the United States and its allies for the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad.

Instead of simply using non state actors as a temporary tactical tool, the Pakistani military-intelligence apparatus viewed them as a strategic weapon for use against both neighbors, India and Afghanistan.

Right from 1947, Pakistan’s foreign and security policy aimed at seeking parity with its larger neighbor India. Unable to achieve conventional military parity, Pakistan’s strategists deployed jihad as a lever of foreign and security policy: Pakistan sought to keep India tied down to the region.

Pakistan’s planners always viewed Afghanistan through the lens of India: Pakistan needed an anti-India pro-Pakistan government in Kabul. Kabul had close ties with India dating back to the January 1950 agreement between the two countries. In the eyes of Pakistan’s security establishment the only way Afghanistan would be friendly to Pakistan was if an Islamist government sat in Kabul, hence the support to Islamist groups over the years — from the mujahideen to Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network — in the hope that one day a pro-Pakistan and anti-India government would come to power in Kabul and would listen to Islamabad — Rawalpindi.

Right from independence, as pointed out by Amb Husain Haqqani in his book Pakistan Between Mosque and Military, Pakistan’s leaders sought to use Islam to build a religion-based identity. In the words of leading Pakistani analyst Khaled Ahmed, Pakistani nationalism was anti-India or to be specific anti-Hindu India. During the 1950s, Pakistan’s educational curriculum was revised to create Pakistan Studies that was compulsorily taught to everyone from primary school through university.

This curriculum has over the years built a narrative that disassociates Pakistan from its Indian civilizational roots, glorifies Pakistan’s Islamic (primarily Sunni) identity and relegates Pakistan’s non-Muslim minorities (and even Shias and Ahmadis) to the status of second-class citizens. Just recently an excellent book on Pakistan’s religious minorities by Farahnaz Ispahani Purifying the Land of the Pure details how this has been a state policy from the 1950s.

This narrative has built an environment in Pakistan that condones the use of violence, glorifies jihadis as freedom fighters and depicts Pakistan as constantly under siege from the Hindu-Christian-Zionist (or RAW-CIA-Mossad) nexus. So even a former army chief like “General Pervez Musharraf who spoke about ‘enlightened moderation’ when he took over power in a coup in 1999, and obtained American largesse for his “U-turnon the Afghan Taliban, has often stated that in his eyes the Kashmir jihadis are freedom fighters.

Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment also saw the usefulness of the narrative for domestic policy: for Pakistan’s military rulers- Ayub, Yahya, Zia or Musharraf- suppressing civilian progressive (read secular) political forces was more important than worrying about the long-term legacy of the Islamist-Jihadi enterprise. This policy continues till this day with the Pakistani security establishment more intent on suppressing the secular MQM (Muttahida Quami Mahaz) in Karachi than in finding the Taliban and other jihadi groups that have deepened their presence in Pakistan’s financial capital.

For Pakistan the focus of its foreign and security policy is the region – South Asia – and the jihadi groups it trained and supported were primarily for levelling the playing field vis-à-vis India and Afghanistan. There were, however, those in the Pakistani establishment, especially under Zia, who believed that Pakistan should extend its jihadi network beyond the region.

During the 1980s Islamists from around the world came and trained in Pakistan-Afghanistan, some participated in the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad, others trained and then left for their home countries and built new jihadi groups there.

From the 1990s terror plots around the world have increasingly been traced back to Pakistan. Ramzi Yusef, a Kuwaiti of Pakistani descent, was one of perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and involved in the Bojinka plot of 1995 that aimed to assassinate then Pope John Paul II and also bring down 11 airlines. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, another Kuwaiti of Pakistani descent, was one of the architects of the 9/11 attacks. In a Heritage foundation report, of the 75 Islamist terror plots in the U.S. since 9/11, over 20 have links with Pakistan.

Connections to Pakistan are also found in the case of terrorist incidents in other countries. The Somalian mastermind behind the September 2013 attack by jihadis on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi Kenya, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr had studied in Pakistan in the 1990s and even fought in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Austrian authorities have arrested a French citizen of Pakistani descent who is believed to be involved in the November 2015 Paris attacks.

Pakistan’s security establishment policy of using Islamist groups and jihadis for the impossible task of achieving parity with India or as Pakistan leaders call it, regional stability, has not succeeded. Pakistani citizens have been the victims of this policy.

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